Summary: When it comes to our personal relationship with God and with others, Jesus taught that personal goodness is more valuable than personal greatness.
When I was a pastor in Alabama, we lived next to a cemetery. Most days I would jog through there; the residents never complained. I enjoyed reading the tombstones. I’ll never forget the short tribute one on large tombstone. A man’s name was listed and then it said, “He was a great man.” I often wondered what criteria did they use to determine that this was a great man?
The word “great” is probably the most overused word in the English language. When you Google the word great there are 5.5 billion links. And we not only have great, we have greater, and greatest!
There were three restaurants on one city block. The first restaurant had a large sign that said, “The Greatest Restaurant in the city.” The second restaurant had a larger sign that said, “The Greatest Restaurant in the county.” The third restaurant had a small sign that simply said, “The Greatest Restaurant on this block.”
But the word “great” can also mean just the opposite. If you get in your car to crank it up and the battery’s dead you might say, “Well, that’s just great!” No wonder it’s hard to learn English!
I’m going to talk about greatness today, and I want to illustrate greatness the same way Jesus did. I have asked my granddaughter, Caroline/Lizzie to help me out today. Why don’t you come up here and jump in my arms? Let me ask you a couple of questions. How old are you? Why do you like coming to church? Do you know that I love you? I love you very much. Okay, see you at lunch. Bye! When Jesus’ disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus did exactly what I just did.
Mark 9:33-37. “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’ ‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.’”
In 2001, Jim Collins wrote a bestselling management book entitled Good to Great. The subtitle was “Why some Companies take the leap and others don’t.” Collins studied a number of successful companies like Nucor and Walgreens and presented management principles on how to take a good company and make it great.
I enjoyed reading the book and we applied some of the principles here at Green Acres, like staffing with excellence. Jim Collins talks about how it’s important to get the right employees on the bus, then you can find the right seat for them later.
These are great principles for business, but when it comes to personal greatness, Jesus turned the pyramid upside down. I’ve entitled this message From Great to Good. I don’t think a business book with that title would sell many copies. But when it comes to our personal relationship with God and with others, Jesus taught that personal goodness is more valuable than personal greatness. Let’s unpack this truth by exploring three principles from this episode.
I. WE MUST RESIST THE TEMPTATION OF SELFISH PRIDE
We read that, “On the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” Just hours earlier Jesus had revealed Himself in all of His glory to Peter, James, and John. Then He had performed the miracle of delivering the young man who was tortured by a demon. As they were walking back Jesus was talking about how He would be delivered, betrayed, tortured, and killed in Jerusalem, then He would rise from the dead. Those are deep, important topics. But instead of discussing these great events, the disciples were arguing about which one of them were the greatest. When Jesus asked them what they were talking about, I don’t blame them for keeping quiet. They were embarrassed.
But Jesus is omniscient—He knows all things—so He knew exactly what they were arguing about: Who was the greatest. We all have to deal with the temptation of our flesh to think we are great. We have an “I” problem, and it has nothing to do with sight. I’m talking about the big “I” that represents your ego. It wants to be great. I can remember boxer Muhammad Ali brashly declaring, “I am the greatest!!”